The Art of the Garden – Common Plants, Uncommon beauty

Plant Choices at 3725 Henry Hudson Parkway, Riverdale, NY 10463

Now in Part III of the Garden Design, we finally consider the plants.


Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) –  This is a native tree with multi-season interest. It blooms with white flowers in early spring and in the fall sports red fruits and scarlet-red foliage. The wood is quite strong as attested by the genus name cornu meaning ‘horn’ in Latin.


Butterfly Bush ( Buddleja davidii  –  more generally written buddleia ) is from the Scophulariaceae family. The genus name honors the Reverend Adam Buddle (1660-1715), an English botanist while the epithet honors Pere Armand David (1826-1900) who discovered this plant growing in China near the Tibetan border . Particularly attractive to butterflies, the bush will continue blooming all summer when regularly deadheaded.

Japanese Andromeda  ( Pieris japonica) –  an early spring bloomer (February / March) with bundles of white flowers. It is native to eastern China, Taiwan and Japan and is a member of the Ericaceae known also as the heath or heather family.

Japanese Snowball ( Viburnum plicatum’ Summer Snowflake’) –  has white flowers that bloom in early August. It is a member of the Adoxaceae or elderberry family and the epithet plicatum meaning ‘pleated’ or ‘folded’  referencing the veins found in the textured leaves common in viburnums.

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) –  was already growing on the property and incorporated. Flowering in May with bunches of fragrant purple flowers, it is native to southeastern Europe although widely grown in the U.S. It is in the same botanic family as the olive – the Oleaceae and is attractive to birds and butterflies.

Japanese Snowball

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) –  member of the mallow or Malvaceae family, it is certainly not the biblically referenced plant.  Hibiscus is the Greek and Latin word for mallows but syriacus is misleading since the plant is native to eastern Asia. The shrub has large pink flowers with a showy, extended pistil blooming in July.

Spirea – spring-bloomer covered with white flowers that is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae. The species is a food source for many moths and butterflies including one known as the Setaceous Hebrew Character (Xestia c-nigrum), a moth.( I cannot find any evidence that this moth lives in the United States). With considerable imagination, it is possible to see the Hebrew letter ‘nun’ (pronounced like the English letter ‘N’) on the forewing . Indeed there is even a second moth species with similar markings called the Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica).  Setaceous means ‘having bristles’ and refers to the hairs present around the ‘character’.

Tatarian Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘elegantissima’synonym ‘argenteomarginata)  The border contains two specimens blooming  May /June.  They have variegated leaves and the white flowers attracts birds and butterflies. The name references the native location in eastern and central Asian areas inhabited by the Tatars.

Rose of Sharon
Cornus alba


Although the grasses tend to put out seed heads later in the season, their foliage lends visual impact whether the grasses grow upright in vase-like fashion or curving over frond-like. Grasses need to be sheared back before each new growing season.

Eulalia (Miscanthus sinensis ) –  a tall and variegated member of the Poaceae family which includes cereal grains, grasses and bamboos. This family is of enormous economic importance to Mankind with other Poaceae family members  – rice, maize and wheat –  comprising two-thirds of human food consumption.

Miscanthus sinensis
Pennisetum setaceum

Fountain Grass (Pennisetum) – another member of the Poaceae family. The members of this family have long plume-like hairs. The Latin name emphasizes these characteristics with penna meaning ‘feather’ and seta (as above) meaning ‘bristle’.

Flowering Perennials

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) –  a member of the Asteraceae family otherwise known as the aster/daisy/composite/sunflower family. It is a Missouri native and it blooms all over Riverdale with orange-yellow rays and a domed deep brown center disc. The genus name honors Olof Rudbeck (1630-1702) a Swedish botanist and founder of the Uppsala Botanic Garden. Hirta  means “hairy” and references the short bristles on the leaves and the stems of the plant.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) –  Although it is recommended to divide these clumps every few years, I find that they are reliable bloomers. Standard daylilies bloom from June into July. However, there are reblooming daylilies such as the ‘Happy Returns’ cutivar used here which blooms from early through late summer adding color throughout the growing season.

Black-eyed Susans
Daylily 'Happy Returns'

Fall Anemone or Japanese Thimbleweed (Anemone hupehensis ) –  a member of the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family. Blooming in August, the pink flowers wave on long stems. Unsurprisingly then, the name anemone  is derived from the Latin anemos meaning wind. The epithet comes for the Hupe (Hubei) province in Central China considered its native location. Wide cultivation in Japan may be responsible for the’ Japanese’ element of the common name.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family that is covered with small blue flowers from July through October. This plant also requires cutting back at the start of each new growing season.

Fall Anemone
Russian Sage

Apartment houses are not usually known for their landscaping design. At 3725 Henry Hudson Parkway, the building architects together with a gifted landscape designer created an attractive outdoor space enjoyed by both the residents and the public.

If you enjoyed this blog, perhaps you might enjoy my book – A Habit of Seeing: Journeys in Natural Science.

1 thought on “The Art of the Garden – Common Plants, Uncommon beauty”

  1. Hello Sura – Thanks for upping our local botanical awareness. Excellent photos. I’d suggest that some show the building in background, as settings are meaningful. I also suggest posting the captions below the photo, which I think is standard journalism? I expect a new Autumn Series of other Riverdale locales.

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